Students at St. Stephen Elementary School found out last week that Santa Claus can have the same skin color as them.
That’s because two Santa Clauses—one white, one black—were invited to the rural Berkeley County school at separate times last Friday to take pictures with students of the same skin color.
Principal Willa Norton’s decision to invite two Santas has drawn criticism from a few parents and from two civil rights organizations, which said the school shouldn’t have divided the students by race without asking parents first.
Marguerite Lyons, who found out about the two Santas while picking up her son outside the school Thursday, said dividing the children by race smacked of prejudice. All the children should have seen one Santa, she said.
Norton said everything was done to benefit a student population that is predominantly black and from low-income families. More than 97 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch, and 75 percent are black.
She said most of the children probably wouldn’t have a chance to meet Santa otherwise, and she wanted to use the opportunity to let students know that the possibilities are endless.
She said she even tried to find a Hispanic Santa for the handful of Hispanic children and an Asian Santa Claus for the school’s one Asian child.
Parent Jay Paulin, who is black, said he liked that his daughter and the other children could talk and take pictures with a black Santa.
“It shows (Santa) can look like them too,” Paulin said.
Dot Scott, president of the Charleston chapter of the NAACP, praised the principal’s effort but found flaws in the execution.
Scott, who successfully rallied for a black Santa in the Charleston Christmas parade, said that if there is going to be more than one Santa, the parents should have a choice.
She said even some black children, who have been taught all of their lives by television that Santa is white, may have had a problem with going to a black Santa.
“I promise you, had you told the parents, you would have had some black parents take their kids to see a white Santa, but not one white parent would have taken their child to see a black Santa,” Scott said.
Victoria Middleton, executive director of American Civil Liberties Union of South Carolina, said the school might have had the best intentions but, “We would question whether separating the children by race was really a good idea.”